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Cougar tag holders need to check quotas

by: PHOTO COURTESTY OF MIKE HILE - Mike Hile is shown by his Jeep in Iraq. He has seen combat during his tour of the Middle Eastern nation.

Scenario #1 -- Next weekend you take your .223 and hunt coyotes north of Prineville. To your amazement, you call in a cougar. You have a just-in-case 2004 cougar tag in your pocket. Can you legally shoot that cougar?
   The answer is, I don't know. I'll explain later.
   Scenario #2 -- The same as scenario #1, except that it's four weeks later and you have your new 2005 hunting license and a 2005 cougar tag. Can you legally shoot the cougar you call in?
   The answer is yes. I'll explain later.
   Scenario #3 -- The same as either scenario #1 or #2, except that you are hunting with your new .204 Ruger, which should be an outstanding coyote cartridge. Can you legally shoot the cougar you call in?
   The answer is no. I'll explain later.
   For scenario #1, nobody knows today whether you can legally shoot a cougar north of Prineville next Saturday, because Oregon has a quota system. There are six zones (see page 46 of the regulations booklet), and the zone north of Prineville (Columbia Basin Zone) has a 2004 quota of 18 cougars. Once that quota is reached, the season is closed.
   As of yesterday, 17 cougars have been killed in that Columbia Basin Zone), so there was just one left on the quota. I don't know what the status will be by Saturday when you go hunting. A hunter could kill a cougar and fill the quota today.
   Therefore -- and this is important -- if you go afield for any purpose, and have both a cougar tag and a legal weapon, you need to find out ahead of time if the quota is still open. You may be out coyote hunting, with no expectation of seeing a cougar. Or you may just be out for a hike, and have a firearm with you, and run into a cougar.
   The tricky part is finding out. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) office in Prineville (447-5111) is difficult to reach because this is a field office and all personnel are often out of the office. The last time I made contact there, and asked about cougar quotas, I was referred to the Bend office.
   I called the Bend office (388-6363), and they referred me to the Salem office.
   I then called the state ODFW offices in Salem (1-800-720-6339), waded through their menu system, was switched to five different ladies, and finally was told that as of then (yesterday morning) there was still one cougar left of the quota for the Columbia Basin Zone.
   In all cases, ODFW offices are open 8:00 to 5:00, Monday through Friday.
   ODFW will soon have a web site that contains the current status of quotas, and I'll have that information here, once the web site is functioning.
   Before going afield, try to learn the status of quotas, for while the odds of your seeing a cougar are slim, you need to know the legal status if you do.
   The "yes" answer to scenario #2 is simple, because beginning January 1 we'll be into a new year, with a new cougar season and new quotas.
   The "no" answer to scenario #3 is also simple, because a legal cougar rifle must be at least .22 caliber.